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The Menard-Hodges Site, located in Arkansas County near Lake Dumond, is part of the Arkansas Post National Memorial. It has been widely considered to be the first location of Arkansas Post and also a location of the Quapaw village of Osotouy. Recent research indicates that the site is part of the historic eighteenth century landscape, but the precise location of the village and post have yet to be pinpointed. Archaeological research of the site has yielded many artifacts from both prehistoric and historic settlement of the region. Two large mounds and several smaller house mounds are still evident at the site, as are the locations of nineteenth-century French family farms.
The location was strategically placed to take advantage of the high ground at the south end of Little Prairie, a smaller outlier of the Grand Prairie, and to be accessible to traffic going up and down the river. The floodplain below the village was often swampy, but the higher ground on Little Prairie was an ideal location for agriculture and for keeping livestock. Evidence of occupation in the Woodland Period (600 BC–AD 1000) and Mississippian Period (AD 900–1600) includes burials, pottery, and other artifacts, as well as the mounds.
European explorers Henri de Tonti and Jean-Baptiste Bénard de La Harpe encountered Quapaw Indians living in the town of Osotouy and in three neighboring towns in the lower Arkansas River Valley region, and de Tonti likely established the first Arkansas Post at or near this site. (Arkansas Post was moved several times in the following decades due to flooding, disease, and battles with the Chickasaw.) De Tonti’s establishment was a single trading house populated by six French traders; La Harpe described the settlement at its peak in 1722 as “twenty huts poorly arranged and three acres of cleared ground.” Ten years later, First Ensign de Coulange added four additional buildings, but by 1750 the site was abandoned in favor of the location a few miles upriver.
Thomas Nuttall visited the site in 1819 and described “low mounds or Indian graves, scattered with fragments of pots, which were either interred or left on the graves with offers of food.” Dr. Edward Palmer, the Smithsonian Institution archaeologist, surveyed the site in 1881 when the land including the site was owned and farmed by a family named Menard. Palmer described the Menard site as a main mound with two prominent wings and ten smaller, flat-topped mounds nearby. He found remains of houses of wattle and daub construction (a wood framework covered by softer material, usually clay), broken pots, stone implements, and some skeletal remains, all disturbed by plowing, as the land was then being used to grow cotton.
Amateur archaeologist Clarence B. Moore led the next investigation in 1908. Moore and his workers dug at many locations along the south end of Little Prairie, around and to the east of the main mound at the Menard Site. In addition to the main mound, he found bits of pottery and fragments of human bones, as well as beads and ornaments made of glass, brass, copper, and shell in the area, although the exact discovery locations are unknown. Overall, he described the site as badly eroded from weather and from farming, although he did unearth remains from 160 burials and found 214 ceramic vessels. Philip Phillips and E. Mott Davis of Harvard University mapped and tested the area in 1940 and 1941 as part of the Lower Mississippi Survey, demonstrating that not only was the site possibly occupied by seventeenth-century Quapaw but that it also had been occupied from the late Woodland Period (AD 300–1000) to the Late Mississippian Period (AD 1400–1600). James A. Ford of the American Museum of Natural History undertook another study of Menard-Hodges in 1958, including the digging of trenches to seek more artifacts. This work was part of a joint effort by the Museum and the National Park Service to determine the locations of various military forts established by the French, Spanish, and Americans in the vicinity of the lower Arkansas River.
In the first decade of the twenty-first century, the Arkansas Archeological Survey has sponsored several field projects at the site, and at additional sites in the vicinity, in order to learn more about when the Quapaw resided in this area and to continue the search for French posts.
The Menard-Hodges Site has been damaged over the last century by farming, by erosion, and by looters. On October 31, 1985, the site was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. The name of the site, Menard-Hodges, combines the name of the family that owned the land in the nineteenth century with the names of Dr. Thomas Hodges and his wife, Charlotte, who bought the site in the 1940s to preserve it and who worked hard for recognition of its importance to Arkansas history. Charlotte Hodges sold the site to the Archeological Conservancy to ensure its permanent preservation, and the conservancy offered the site to the National Park Service. It became the property of the National Park Service on November 14, 1997, and is now the Osotouy Unit of Arkansas Post National Memorial. As of 2008, the site is closed to the public.
For additional information:Arnold, Morris S. Colonial Arkansas 1686–1804. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 1991.
“French Colonial Arkansas.” Winthrop Rockefeller Institute Research Station, Arkansas Archeological Survey. http://www.uark.edu/campus-resources/archinfo/atufrencol.html (accessed August 20, 2008).
Jeter, Marvin D., ed. Edward Palmer’s Arkansaw Mounds. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 1990.
Moore, Clarence B. The Lower Mississippi Valley Expeditions of Clarence Bloomfield Moore. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1998.
Nuttall, Thomas. A Journal of Travels into the Arkansas Territory during the Year 1819. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 1999.
Bill Norman Little Rock, Arkansas
Staff of the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture
Last Updated 2/4/2011
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